Noblesville company has high hopes for pomegranate

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Health-food fads come and go, but Verdure Sciences of Noblesville is banking on the staying power of pomegranate.

The botanical-extract distributor was recently awarded a patent on its pomegranate-based product called Pomella. Verdure has invested more than $1 million in marketing and research, and hopes to see its product in more foods and drinks, perhaps even mouthwash.

“Pomegranate was one of our major first breakthroughs,” CEO Ajay Patel said.

Verdure Ajay Patel is founder of Verdure, which has been doing pomegranate research since 2000. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Verdure Sciences sells a variety of botanical extracts to the dietary supplements industry. Patel declined to disclose total revenue, but an estimate by Nutrition Business Journal puts the company’s sales at $23 million for 2008.

Verdure is a small player in its segment of the U.S. dietary supplements industry, which was worth $25.2 billion in 2008, according to the Colorado-based NBJ.

The company’s strategy is to create branded ingredients by obtaining patents and backing research that uses those ingredients.

The strategy is common among ingredient suppliers these days, but it’s one that could pay off in a big way, said Carlotta Mast, NBJ editor.

For example, she noted that Columbia, Md.-based Martek Biosciences has become the dominant provider of plant-based omega-3, an essential fatty acid. The company’s Life’s DHA brand is found in a host of consumer products, from eggs to infant formula, she said.

“If [Verdure] could get one of these extracts into a mainstream food or beverage product that was able to gain a consumer following, it could really boost the size of their business,” Mast said.

Verdure’s Pomella patent, awarded last February, covers the chemical composition of the extract, which was developed by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles. Verdure claims Pomella is more readily absorbed by the body than other pomegranate products, and therefore delivers a more powerful dose of the antioxidants that make pomegranate a so-called “super fruit.”

The company is already selling Pomella for use in several products, including juice made by California-based Langers and a chewable supplement sold by New Chapter, based in Brattleboro, Vt.

Verdure has been funding research on its pomegranate extract, as well as others, since 2000. Indeed, Patel hopes to one day land a licensing deal with a major food and beverage manufacturer.Verdure factbox

For now, Verdure is one of dozens of ingredient suppliers. The industry’s lobbying group, the American Herbal Products Association, counts 42 members, including Verdure, in its botanical supplier category alone.

“We’re in an industry where the barriers to entry are very low,” Technical Director Blake Ebersole explained. “We have to do what we can to set ourselves apart.”

The increasingly health-conscious consumer market is driving the supplements industry.

According to NBJ, total raw material and ingredient sales to the U.S. nutrition industry grew 11 percent in 2008 to $8.6 billion. That was the highest sales growth that ingredient suppliers had recorded since 1997, but NBJ noted it was partly attributed to higher costs.

Suppliers that the industry magazine surveyed last year said companies in the health-food niche were delaying product launches.

Like Verdure, other suppliers are setting their sights on the major food-and-beverage makers, which are looking for developments in so-called “functional” foods. These are conventional foods that may claim to offer additional health benefits, such as probiotic yogurt to aid digestion.

Patel, 36, started the firm in 1997 as a solo operation called Geni Herbs. He’d recently received a degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University and noticed that traditional Indian medicine was growing in popularity in the United States.

Patel’s father was involved in manufacturing herbal extracts back in India. So Patel decided to stay in Indiana and set up a distributorship. Verdure now has 13 employees and sales offices in Germany and Japan.

Although most of Verdure’s customers and research partners are on the East and West coasts, Patel said Indiana is a good place for his business. The local life sciences industry provides a pool of workers with the necessary expertise. Verdure also relies on local vendors for product testing, which is a key part of the business, especially under new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Verdure’s exclusive manufacturing partner is Pharmanza Herbals, owned by Patel’s family. The company has a 120-employee factory in the Indian state of Gujarat.

That relationship has been crucial to Verdure’s positioning as a high-quality ingredient supplier. Under new FDA rules, companies that market dietary supplements to consumers must be able to verify the contents of their products, the shelf life and the safety.

Consumer-product makers are turning to suppliers like Verdure for the required testing and documentation. With many of his competitors unable to provide those assurances, Patel said he expects to increase revenue 20 percent to 30 percent this year.

Patel said Verdure began spending more on documentation and testing several years ago. Quality-control expenses tripled in the past year alone, he said. “We have invested a ton of money to do this on the raw-material level.”

Ebersole, a chemist, spends a lot of time on the scientific conference circuit.

“Researchers are always looking for a breakthrough material to study,” he said.

That’s how Verdure got involved with UCLA’s clinical trial of curcumin for Alzheimer’s disease patients. Curcumin is the yellow pigment in the Indian spice turmeric, and it’s known as an anti-inflammatory, which is an area of interest for Alzheimer’s research.

The UCLA team is using Verdure’s specific curcumin formulation, called LongVida, and the company is seeking a patent on the product.

Obviously, Verdure hopes curcumin turns out to be the next star of the health-food industry, but Patel said he won’t allow his ingredients to be used as marketing gimmicks. Consumer-goods makers must use Verdure’s ingredients in amounts recommended by the research, he said.

Those standards are what will allow Verdure to outlive the fads, Ebersole said. “The idea is, if the product works, then the consumer keeps buying it.”•


  • IBJ Verdure article
    April 10, 2010
  • Great article at Verdure Sciences
    This is a great article written a couple months ago about Verdure Sciences, where I am interviewing. Sounds like thy are not just a start-up "mom & pop" shop, but rather have some family support and backing from reletives from India. Sounds like a company with great potential! Hope it works out - you will have to have prayer time in the care tomorrow at 11am for my meeting with the CEO. Thanks.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.